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Everything you should know when applying for a credit card online

You can typically apply for a credit card online in a few simple steps, but it's important to get the facts about what is included in an online card application. To make the process easier, gather all the information you need before you get started.

  • Who can apply online for a credit card
  • What you need to submit a credit card application
  • How to apply for a credit card online
  • How credit card applications affect your credit
  • Getting started: apply for a credit card online

Can I apply for a credit card online?

Online credit card applications are open to US residents-in other words, people with a mailing address in the US who are over 18 and either have a Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). 

Following the passage of the Credit CARD (Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure) Act of 2009, applicants under the age of 21 will need a co-signer or proof of income as part of the application process.

While credit card applications are open to nearly anyone, note that credit card issuers evaluate applications based on many different factors and criteria, which could include your reported income and your credit score.

What you need to submit a credit card application

Card issuers are interested in getting a full picture of your financial health. Besides collecting your basic contact information, they will use your SSN to pull your credit report. Consider finding out your credit score before you apply so you know what kinds of cards you're eligible for.

Most online card applications require:

Your full legal name. This is the name you use on your official government documentation, like your driver's license and passport.

Your SSN and/or ITIN. The Social Security Administration provides SSNs, while the Internal Revenue Service issues ITINs. A credit card application typically requires only one or the other.

Your mailing address. This is the address where you expect to receive your credit card statements.

Your gross annual income. "Gross" refers to your income before taxes. Card issuers use this information to estimate whether you can pay off your card debt and determine what your credit line will be.

Your employment status. This identifies whether you are employed, unemployed or self-employed. You may need to provide your employer's phone number (or, if you are self-employed, a tax document) for verification purposes.

Your housing costs. Because this information doesn't appear on your credit report, card issuers may ask you about it directly, whether you rent or own your home.

Your phone number. Some card issuers may ask for additional information like your phone number as well as options for the best times of day to reach you. You may receive a call for follow-up requests or questions.

How to apply for a credit card online

Determine your credit health. Before you shop around for credit cards, consider ordering a copy of your credit report to review your credit history and look for errors. You can get one free annual copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax®, Experian® and TransUnion®) at annualcreditreport.com. Your credit scores are not included on these free credit reports so it is recommended to check other sources for your credit scores to help you identify which cards you're eligible for.

Do your research. There are hundreds of different credit cards available with a variety of offers, fee structures and rewards programs. Chart your spending behaviors so you know which categories you spend most heavily in, and then shop around for the card that matches your credit profile and best fits your needs.

Pull together all of the required information. You won't need a lot of personal information to apply for a credit card, but it's important that all of your data is up-to-date and accurate.

Follow internet security best practices. When you're ready to apply, make sure both your web browser and operating system are up to date. Consider filling out the application on a mobile data connection or a safe, private network to prevent the risks of someone intercepting your personal information. And if you have any doubt about the legitimacy of an email from a card issuer, navigate directly to the issuer's website rather than clicking on any links in the email.

Submit your application. Most of the time, approvals and rejections are nearly instantaneous, but some credit issuers may take a longer time to make a decision, such as 8-15 business days. Keep in mind that it can take up to two weeks for you to receive your new card.

Will applying for a credit card affect my credit score?

Any time you apply for credit or a loan, the creditor or lender will order a copy of your credit report. This is known as a "hard inquiry." A significant number of hard inquiries may indicate that you are looking for credit and could lower your credit score.

New accounts make up just 10% of your FICO® score, however. Some scoring models will treat multiple inquiries as a single new-account activity, which won't affect your score much at all.

Applying online is a flexible and easy way to apply for a credit card and, with the right documentation in hand, the process only takes a few minutes. Before you get started, shop around to find the best card, and ensure that you only submit your application on a secure internet connection.